Oh, the carnage. President Barack Obama played his cards masterfully, as the Republican Party once again caved in one of his endless games of legislative chicken.
Facing a "fiscal cliff" that Republicans and Democrats engineered in a 2011 "kick the can" measure, Obama took a "my way or the highway" approach to meaningful spending cuts, forcing Republican leaders to focus only on the part of the fiscal world that the president and most Democrats in the Congress love the most -- that of revenue.
An eleventh-hour compromise did emerge, as many expected, in the U.S. Senate, where members must admittedly run for re-election among less conservative electorates. This forced Republican members to consider another bad deal in order to avoid an end to the Bush tax cuts for millions of taxpayers who are suddenly dubbed the forgotten "middle class." But what the "middle class" received was not a rescue but merely a temporary reprieve from a slippery slope that is destined to reach far into their pocket in years to come.
Once again, a glossed-over last minute "fix" left those wanting real deficit reduction and no increases in taxes for any taxpayer, including those who earn the least, empty-handed.
The "compromise" bill allowed the payroll deduction rate for Social Security to increase, meaning that the government got its hands on more money from taxpayers immediately.
And as for setting the definition of "the wealthy who pay more taxes" at over $400,000, well, that was in part smoke and mirrors. For example, those pesky families earning over $300,000 or individuals earning $250,000 will still have to, effectively, pay more in taxes this next year thanks to limitations on certain deductions set. If you doubt my verdict, simply listen to the esteemed Dr. Charles Krauthammer, who basically described the plate of legislative mess served up to Republicans as a "rout" of their party and their side of the aisle in Congress.
While many a Republican House member, safely ensconced in carefully drawn conservative districts, were freed up to vote their conscience, Republican U.S. senators were not so lucky. And the nature of the Senate, by constitutional design, is truly to bring a cooling effect to the hot and immediate reaction of the House, which must run for office every two years as opposed to every six.
But perhaps in the "no" vote of one Senate member, Marco Rubio of Florida, we can find another means of keeping the Senate a "cool customer" without it constantly caving in to those last-minute types of crises that now come to plague our nation every year.
Rubio is a product of a state that adopted and stuck with term limits. He knew he would be exiting his state's House of Representatives after a certain time period and after being limited to just two years as speaker of the House. Yes, he chose to run for the U.S. Senate and defeated the powerful then-Gov. Charlie Crist in a Republican primary. But he did so against all odds, risking his political future on a platform far more conservative than that of Crist, who now has become a Democrat.
Anyone who witnessed "necessary tax increases" and begrudgingly agreed to both in the Ronald Reagan years and later that of George H.W. Bush knows all too well what usually results from these sorts of deals. Promises of later spending cuts never arrive, but the tax policy left in the wake of such compromise is almost impossible to alter.
The Republicans just don't get it. President Obama is a master at this game, a brilliant political player and policymaker. And he does not yield. Even when Republicans gain an inch, such as raising the threshold for marginal rate increases to the $400,000-plus area, they give a mile in other new taxes, an end to deductions and extension of all types of credits and special tax treatments ranging from motor sports facilities to all types of "investments" that have already proved to be flops.
Yes, Rubio likely was looking to the future when he cast his "no" vote among a sea of Republicans -- many who are truly rock-solid conservatives. But it was about time someone, even on the "cooler" Senate side, did think about the future. Republicans must either learn to stand this president down by enduring a few days or weeks of Gingrich-like tough press, a la the 1990s, forcing the president to actually moderate an aggressive slide towards the left, or continue to be pummeled.
The next test -- that of the debt ceiling -- is just around the corner.
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